Chris Hipkins Poised to Replace Jacinda Ardern as New Zealand’s Leader

Chris Hipkins, who has been serving as New Zealand’s education and policing minister, is set to become the country’s new prime minister next month after he was the only member of the governing Labour Party to be nominated for the party leadership post.

Members of the Labour caucus will meet on Sunday in the New Zealand city of Napier, where they are currently at their summer retreat, to endorse the nomination and confirm Mr. Hipkins as their party’s new leader. At least 10 percent of the caucus must vote for Mr. Hipkins to confirm him.

His nomination comes after the surprise resignation on Thursday of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who had become a global liberal icon during her tenure.

“I believe that leading a country is the most privileged job anyone could ever have, but also one of the more challenging,” Ms. Ardern said at a news conference announcing her decision. “You cannot and should not do it unless you have a full tank.”

Ms. Ardern has said she will leave her post “no later” than Feb. 7, giving the party about two weeks to complete the transition.

Mr. Hipkins, 44, became a household name in New Zealand during daily televised briefings throughout the first two years of the coronavirus pandemic. As first the health minister and then the minister for the Covid-19 response, he became the face of — and often the driving force of the policies behind — the country’s approach to the virus, which resulted in few deaths.

But as the Labour Party’s next leader, he will face a number of large challenges when the country goes to the polls on Oct. 14.

Voters, facing the same pocketbook strains as in many other parts of the world, are looking for solutions to biting inflation, an ongoing housing crisis and other entrenched social issues such as child poverty and crime. Polling suggests many voters believe the party has not provided the policy answers, with 38 percent favoring the center-right National Party to Labour’s 33 percent as of last month.

Even as her party slumped in the polls, Ms. Ardern had retained a certain star power that Mr. Hipkins may struggle to match. But Mr. Hipkins, who has been a politician since 2008 and who is a familiar face to many, will bring to the campaign a reputation as a champion debater and an experienced policymaker.

In a clash of two Chrises, Mr. Hipkins will go head-to-head against Christopher Luxon, the leader of the National Party and the former chief executive of New Zealand’s national airline, Air New Zealand.

Mr. Hipkins may struggle to get beyond his association with pandemic policy, potentially a double-edged sword with voters keen to put the worst of the last three years behind them.

In the early years of the pandemic, New Zealand’s extended lockdowns and vaccine mandates were broadly popular. But as the rest of the world opened up, resentment began to grow, spurring a backlash among some.

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